The task of loading or unloading animals into vehicles is the most dangerous part of the livestock transport task, according to the the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association. Unreported accidents and near misses are commonplace, with occasional major accidents and even deaths such as occurred in the case of Chad A Lynch when a ramp collapsed in October 2013.
Mathew Munro, the Executive Director, tells us the ALRTA is a grass roots association run by grass roots transport operators. Every member of the ALRTA National Council has been behind the wheel been there, seen it, done it all. So, it should come as no surprise that ALRTA and our six State Member Associations are actively working on nitty-gritty coal face issues like driver safety at loading and unloading depots.
A survey of 40 members conducted at the Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of Victoria (LRTAV) Annual Conference in August 2019 indicated that:
- 80 per cent of injuries requiring medical attention that occur during livestock loading or unloading are not reported to work safe authorities; and
- For most drivers, near misses occur almost every day.
Recent high-profile incidents underscore the need for action.
In February 2018, a ‘typical’ near miss was reported to Safe Work South Australia (SWSA) after a cow turned at the top of a ramp at the Mount Gambier and District Saleyards and brushed past the loader. There was no safety gate so the only means of escape was to scale a nearby fence.
SWSA issued four Improvement Notices but closed the case before an agreed action plan was implemented. In August 2018, a driver unloading cattle was ‘hit’ on the same ramp, requiring first aid, an ambulance and hospital admittance. Only then did SWSA issue a Prohibition Notice.
LRTAV complained to SWSA about their approach. SWSA determined that their actions had been appropriate. LRTAV then complained to the SA Ombudsman who determined that SWSA failed to properly consider issuing a Prohibition Notice preventing the use of an unsafe livestock loading ramp and had erred in closing the investigation before necessary modifications to the ramp were completed. The Ombudsman recommended that SWSA issue a written apology to LRTAV.
SafeWork NSW is also investigating an incident in north western NSW that occurred on 6 August 2019 in which a driver was fatally crushed by a bull. The driver was loading a single deck trailer when the bull turned to exit and pinned him against the race wall.
A WA livestock transporter was recently held 80 per cent responsible for injuries sustained when a driver was crushed by a bull. The incident occurred in February 2015 when the driver entered a trailer to encourage a baulking bull past a gate into an internal pen. The bull turned on the driver, striking him and then crushing against part of the loading dock.
A WA District Court found that despite the driver being experienced and the risk being ‘blindingly obvious’, the operator should have explicitly instructed the driver never to enter the crate in such circumstances and to instead use the ‘three man method’ in which one person on each side of the outside of the crate encouraged the bull to move, while a third person closed the gate.
The court awarded $977,000 in compensation to the injured driver. That’s a massive blow to any individual, family or business.
Most regulators really do not understand the complexity of handling livestock. The only way to fix this problem would be for each authority, or perhaps all of the worksafe authorities as a group, to engage a national specialist to provide advice on best practice and infrastructure.
Of course there is also an important role for industry to play. ALRTA, our State Member Associations, and individual transport businesses are together progressing several initiatives designed to improve safety when loading or unloading livestock.
In July 2015, the ALRTA published a national Guide for Safe Design of Livestock Loading Ramps and Forcing Yards. The Guide summarises the potential hazards of livestock loading ramps and forcing yards and includes practical examples of ways to control associated risks for different types of facilities.
In response to a coroner’s recommendation and an application lodged by ALRTA, Standards Australia is now developing an enforceable national standard via the Australian National Committee SF-054 – Safe Design of Livestock Ramps and Forcing Yards. It is expected that an enforceable national ramp standard will be published in late 2021.
Frasers Livestock Transport has designed a custom-built, free-standing cross-loading module that incorporates a series of elevated platforms, over-trailer walkways and sliding gates/barriers. This new module has decreased the risks of falls, trips and contact with livestock and improved productivity through time efficiencies and enhanced livestock welfare.
LRTAV have worked with equipment suppliers to develop and promote safer supporting infrastructure such as the ProWay Stock Crate Pivot Access Landing (Crate P.A.L.) that swings in alongside a trailer to enable drivers to work at varying levels without the need to climb on the side or top of the crate.
A trial of a ‘user-pay’ Crate P.A.L. commenced at Kilcoy Global Foods on 2 September 2019. Funded through the NHVR’s Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative, the trial is exploring the potential of a ‘user-pay’ system to facilitate more rapid uptake of safer unloading infrastructure at major livestock depots across Australia.
In addition to these major initiatives, ALRTA State Member Associations are actively progressing specific safety concerns raised by individual grassroots members with local feedlots, saleyards and processors – there are just too many to list!
Pursuing action via a grass-roots member association is a great way to get results without putting the reputation of an individual transport business on the line.